WHAT IS A WHEEL ALIGNMENT?
A wheel alignment is the process of aligning the wheels of a vehicle with one another and the surface of the road. It's achieved by bringing the suspension system to its proper configuration and positioning as well as adjusting certain components. Unlike some other vehicle maintenance tasks that you can do yourself, a wheel alignment requires the expertise of an experienced mechanic and an alignment machine.
Basically, the purpose of a wheel alignment is to square a vehicle's wheels and axles with one another so that they'll move in the same direction. The process involves adjusting all the suspension angles that have an impact on tire movement and positioning, and ensuring the steering wheel is perfectly centered. The manufacturer of a vehicle designates standard angles for aligning its tires, which are specified in degrees.
The type of alignment your vehicle needs depends on its suspension system and the way it distributes power to its wheels. If you have an all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle, you have to get a four-wheel alignment. On the other hand, if your vehicle uses a front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive system, it needs a front-end alignment or thrust-angle alignment.
IS WHEEL ALIGNMENT REALLY NECESSARY?
Yes, wheel alignment is one of the most important maintenance tasks. If your wheels are misaligned, your vehicle will experience a dramatic drop in handling capability. It'll constantly pull in one direction, which can greatly inhibit its ability to turn or move in a straight line. This not only makes driving more difficult and reduces ride comfort, but it can jeopardize your and your passengers' safety.
In addition, failure to realign your wheels regularly can cause your cost of car ownership to go up considerably. Wheels that aren't properly aligned may lead to uneven tire wear, which means you'll have to replace your tires more frequently. It isn't uncommon for wheel misalignment to result in flat spots and tire blowouts because it can cause your tires to experience added tension. Also, misaligned wheels can lead to damaged wheel rims and suspension, which can affect the performance and longevity of your vehicle.
HOW OFTEN SHOULD YOU GET A WHEEL ALIGNMENT?
The interval for wheel alignment can vary significantly depending on the type of vehicle you own, your driving habits, and other factors. Most mechanics recommend that you get a wheel alignment once every two or three years. However, the best thing to do is to follow the recommended interval in your owner's manual.
If your owner's manual doesn't specify how often you should have your wheels realigned, you should bring your car to a service center or auto repair shop for a wheel alignment checkup at least once a year. Usually, a vehicle's wheel alignment will be at least slightly off after one or two years of driving. Nonetheless, if your car holds the road well, doesn't drift to one side, or has evenly worn tires, it isn't necessary to have its wheels realigned every year.
It's important to note that there are specific circumstances that may cause your vehicle to require wheel alignment on a more frequent basis. Vehicles with wider tires or performance-oriented cars usually need to have their wheels aligned more often. Additionally, you should consider getting a wheel alignment every time you install new tires on your car.
HOW DO YOU KNOW YOU NEED AN ALIGNMENT?
Besides going for a wheel alignment checkup on a regular basis, you should also look for certain signs indicating that your wheels need to be realigned. These signs include:
•Sharp pulling in one direction: If your car pulls sharply in one direction, it may be because its tires are under-inflated. However, if it continues to pull to one side after you inflate your tires to the correct pressure, it's a sign that you should get a wheel alignment.
•Slight pulling: Slight pulling isn't as noticeable as sharp pulling, but it nonetheless shows that your wheels are misaligned. To determine whether your vehicle has a gentle pull, go to a vacant parking lot with a level surface. Drive your car slowly in a straight line and then remove your hands from the steering wheel. If you notice your car drifting to one side, then it's in need of a tire alignment.
•Steering wheel vibration: Steering wheel vibration may be the result of unbalanced tires or misaligned wheels. In the case of misalignment, it occurs because the tires are pulling in opposite directions.
•Crooked steering wheel: It's important to pay attention to the steering wheel when you drive. You may be subconsciously driving with the steering wheel off-center to compensate for wheel misalignment. If this is happening, it may be time to realign your wheels.
•Uneven tire wear: Look at your front tires to see if they have the same wear patterns and then check your rear tires as well. If the wear patterns aren't the same, it may be an indication that your wheels aren't properly aligned.
HOW LONG DOES AN ALIGNMENT TAKE?
We know Rochester drivers are busy. So is an alignment a short or lengthy process? Under normal circumstances, a wheel alignment will take an average of one hour, whether it's a two-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive vehicle. If there's too much wear and tear or damage on the suspension system, steering bushing, track rod, or other parts, it'll take a longer time as some components have to be replaced.
Wheel alignment is an essential maintenance task that you cannot afford to skip as it can have a significant impact on your vehicle's performance, ride comfort, safety, and lifespan.